Figuring out your optimal marketing strategy during a global pandemic was unprecedented. There was a lot of helpful advice out there, but because we simply had never experienced a crisis like this in the age of digital marketing, it’s safe to say nobody knew exactly what the secret recipe was for marketing your brand, reallocating your spend, and, in the end, maintaining strong ROI.
In a Forbes piece, Paramita Bhattacharya, CMO of Blurb, explained this predicament for marketing leaders in 2020:
“We’re just at the beginning of a tumultuous time in business. None of us know what will work, or how consumers, customers, businesses, society and the global environment will fare. What we can do is develop the muscle to move forward with contingency strategies, planning and execution.”
Indeed, even though no one could truly predict the right path forward, we certainly couldn’t sit idly by and hope for the best.
Accordingly, in 2020, we compiled a mixed bag of noteworthy research on how marketing leaders could navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. As Bhattacharya emphasized, there was no single right way to plan for the uncertain future:
“Business disruption can come fast and furious,” she wrote. “In the marketing function, it may require quickly shifting your mindset and strategies. Instead of a single likely outcome, we must identify and work with a range of possible scenarios.”
Whatever you decide to do as a marketing leader, you need to be sure you’re effectively tracking and communicating your changing plans.
With changing plans come changing budgets. If you had allocated a large portion of your marketing budget to now-canceled or now-virtual B2B marketing events, that’s a big chunk of change you’re probably looking to spend elsewhere or shelving for another year. At the same time, too, with many businesses facing an economic downturn, marketing leaders must also adapt to reduced budgets overall. No matter the situation, you’re likely having to reallocate funds.
When it comes to shifting your funds, a Forrester blog, “Survival Tips for the B2B CMO In Changing Economic Conditions,” underscored the importance of alignment:
“Now is the time to align program budget allocation with your campaign strategy,” wrote Jennifer Ross.
First of all, to tackle your changing campaign strategy, Ross recommended balancing both long- and short-term opportunities.
“Marketing leaders should work with their portfolio marketing teams to assess the changing market dynamics and the competitive landscape,” she said. In this case, a big part of changing market dynamics is the shift from in-person to digital events.
“Evaluate target buyers and target markets to plot the opportunities according to market conditions and internal capabilities to prioritize efforts and find the balance between viable short-term opportunities and longer-term growth strategies,” Ross added.
Then, as you execute your campaigns, she said, focus on these three things to get your budget properly aligned:
- Maintain “strong budget controls.”
- Track the spending and performance of your campaigns.
- “Release or reallocate” any remaining unspent funds.
To have these “strong budget controls,” marketing leaders need the power to organize their plans and automatically keep them in sync with finance, for example.
To do so, once you’ve built out your new marketing budget, entered your planned costs, and seen how it all lines up with your campaign strategy, you need to be able associate the tactical elements of your plan to the budget hierarchy prescribed by finance, enabling you to stay in line with how finance needs to see the information. This will help eliminate surprises at the end of quarter or year – the last thing anyone needs right now.
Read more: Why Two Budgets Are Better Than One
Traditionally, your marketing planning might look something like this: create your plans, put them into action, and update them as needed. Then, you can go back to the drawing board with new plans and repeat the process. According to a Gartner webinar, this pattern is looking a little different now.
Now, through responsive marketing planning, you need to create your plans, put them into action, and update them as needed, but instead of going back and making new plans, you should keep updating and implementing them, as laid out below by Gartner:
In other words, with plans constantly changing, marketing leaders need to be sure, in turn, that they’re constantly seeing what’s working and what’s not. And that doesn’t happen without the ability to track.
Accordingly, Gartner recommends making sure your team is equipped with data; building “adaptable scenarios” that can “flex to changing dynamics”; and keeping a focus on “core cost data” relating to, for example, cost challenges as a result of reduced revenue, or on the other end, cost opportunities as a result of “changing customer behaviors.”
When it comes to making sense of this data, we often talk about the importance of getting out of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets—albeit a useful tool—are designed to manipulate numbers; they’re not meant to track your organization’s marketing and financial data in their entirety—especially not when your changing plans require specialized attention through responsive planning.
Rather than using disparate spreadsheets across your team, you need to adopt one single, shared space that lets you routinely improve what marketing is doing while ensuring everyone is working from the same version of data.
What’s more, spreadsheets won’t be able to investigate what-if situations – i.e., the aforementioned adaptable scenarios. To do that, you need to adopt a standardized methodology for tracking and measuring what’s working, what’s not working and what could work. When you’re equipped with actual campaign and tactic performance in addition to predicted results, you can make more informed decisions about where to invest in one area vs. another: i.e., create, update and implement (and update and implement).
Keep in mind that all marketers have been in this responsive planning thing together; nearly everyone has had to make some kind of change.
In a poll, Gartner posed the question, “What, if any, actions, has your marketing department taken in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic?” A whopping 98% of respondents said they had taken some kind of action (and keep in mind—this was back in March 2020).
Likewise, a resource from marketing agency LeadMD made another poignant statement at the time:
“COVID-19 is going to impact your business. Regardless of the specifics there, no one will be unaffected—and planning for that impact is absolutely critical. If you haven’t been part of a quarterly reforecasting process in the past, it’s time to start.”
Keeping your organization’s COVID-19-specific actions properly archived will be key. Bhattacharya’s Forbes article recommends building out a “nerve center” over a certain time frame to “pivot into a working framework that’s different from business as usual.”
“Set up processes that avoid ad hoc responses,” she explains, “and formally document as much as possible without losing critical time.”
On our end at Uptempo, because our software enables custom and unlimited segmentation, several of our customers have initiated new segmentation specifically for actions they took related to COVID-19.
In their Uptempo marketing dashboard, organizations isolated any new tactics being created as a result of the crisis: e.g., new webinars or white papers to help circumvent a decrease in revenue expected from canceled events in 2020.
This segmentation enabled them to track and more easily visualize the scope, investment, and impact of their efforts during this period—while putting this information within the context of their overall plan. Importantly, they’ll be able to take a look back at any time to see specifically what worked and what didn’t.
There’s a lot of information out there on how to handle digital marketing during times of crisis. No matter what you decide is best for your organization, make sure you’re tracking and communicating your efforts so that you can be prepared for some tough conversations when the dust settles: How did we do? How do we move forward from here?